“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.” – John James Audubon

birdsSpring is just awakening,  bringing thoughts of  of vernal delights—longer days, seedling germination, warmer weather, and newborn lambs. Here in Vermont, this time of year is marked by the smell of boiling sap and sound of familiar choruses of birds returning from their winter homes to reside in our fields and forests.

Though pouring a healthy dose of maple syrup on one’s morning flapjacks may not immediately bring to mind sapsuckers and wood thrushes, bird songs and sap collection are more connected than one might initially observe. Forest management—and sugarbush management, in particular—offers a glimpse into the interplay between managed agricultural systems and the native ecosystems which surround them. Sugarbushes can be managed to maintain a high degree of structural and biological diversity. When sensitive management practices are employed, a sugarbush can realize  greater health and resilience while providing a higher quality bird habitat.

Audubon Vermont’s Bird-Friendly Maple Project works to encourage support for such management practices among the state’s producers and consumers alike. The project, an initiative led by conservation biologist Steve Hagenbuch, incentivizes producers to adopt management practices suitable to an area’s avian residents.

The Virginia Russell woodlot and the sugarbush within, managed by Sterling College, serve to illustrate many of these techniques through its forest management plan.

According to Sterling faculty member Rick Thomas, woodlot management with birds in mind creates an interesting challenge for loggers and land managers. Detailed analysis of present habitat coupled with harvesting and management techniques to address gaps in the forest structure is required. Once a prescription is written for a stand, the logger begins the process of creating changes in the vertical and horizontal structure. In the Virginia Russell Woodlot, we have identified two major deficits: a lack of “coarse woody debris” left behind after logging operations and a poorly growing mid-canopy layer. To address these needs, consulting forester Ross Morgan has guided our saws to cut in certain areas and leave behind a large volume of wood left on the ground in strategic locations; these low grade logs will provide a variety of positive changes to the forest floor. As a test plot to enhance regeneration of the middle canopy layer, Ross has outlined a plan to create a 100’ x 200’ patch cut in an area rich in northern hardwood species. Working together with a forester, the landowner, and Audubon has been an amazing experience; and, by the looks and sounds of the forest, the birds are fairly impressed with our work.

Sugarbush management is merely one example of the relationship between agricultural land use and local bird populations. Those who are interested in learning more about the complexities of this relationship should attend the Fields, Forests & Bird Habitat workshop led by Steve Hagenbuch on May 21st-22nd. The two-day workshop will explore principles of healthy bird habitat and creative, practical land management strategies for several key species of birds. Farmers, landowners, and interested outdoors persons who attend will come away from the experienced more equipped to act as an ally of the birds and support ecosystem health.

The two-day workshop will explore principles of healthy bird habitat and creative, practical land management strategies for several key species of birds.


Filed Under: Academics Blog Ecology Sustainable Agriculture

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